Monthly Archives: April 2013

Tragic Vision: Meditations of a Midlife Adolescent

One of the pivotal changes in my recognition of needing to grow up took place in the unlikliest of settings.  In the Fall of 2010, my wife and I went to visit our oldest son for Parents’ Weekend at The King’s College in New York City.  I attended a lecture given by Dr. Anthony Bradley.  The big idea of this lecture was that our assumptions about the nature of humanity every aspect of our worldview.  In other words, “bad anthropology yields disastrous results.”

The portion that was really eye-opening for me was when he introduced a book by Thomas Sowell called A Conflict of Visions.  Dr. Sowell describes “visions” as basic beliefs.  They are paradigms, ways of seeing, overall “grids” in the way that we perceive data and events , perhaps even below the conscious level.

Dr. Sowell noticed that people whom we might call “liberals” and “conservatives” tend to talk past one another.  He attributes this to “a conflict of visions.”  The two fundamental visions that Dr. Sowell expounds upon are the “tragic,” or “constrained” vision, and the “unconstrained” vision.

The main factor that drives the tragic vision is the recognition of human limitations. One could describe these limitations as limitations of ability and limitations of morality.  It is the recognition that humanity is not omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnicompetent.  While this does not rule out advances in innovation, discovery, technology, and civilization, it does recognize that there are some things that will not be able to be done.  Ever try running a one minute mile?  Eliminating poverty?  Making wars to cease?  It is the assumption that all of the scenarios are complex problems, so much so that we may not even be able to identify all of the variables inherent in them, much less solve them.   The recognition of having limits of morality assumes that human beings are fundamentally selfish organisms.  We do not naturally incline toward virtue.  It is a Hobbesian view of man in the state of nature, of which he said, “life is nasty brutish, and short.”

Now, this may sound like a morbid understanding of human nature.  However, for me, it was positively liberating.  While my outlook on life was previously anchored in the tragic vision, I previously did not see the implications of this.  Because of this, I was always looking for “the perfect solution for every problem.”  I was striving for the “perfect career fit.”       This discovery also freed me from the tyranny of perfectionism and made me a better evaluator of changes that I contemplate, both in my personal life and in my vocation  The tragic vision insists that there are no “perfect solutions” and “perfect fits” from East of Eden to the New Jerusalem.  All “solutions” and “fixes” involve trade-offs and unintended consequences.  This is not to say that one ought not to take risks.  But it is to focus attention on the processes inherent in living, and to put our trust in wise processes rather than ephemeral products.

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Growing Up: Mediations of a Midlife Adolescent

I have to grow up.  This is a startling realization for a fifty year old.  But it is an undeniable truth that I’ve come to recognize over the last several years.  I’ve bought into the cultural lie that the abundant life consists of youth and immaturity.  This hasn’t worked well for me.  Moreover, my commitment to this unspoken agenda has caused some difficulty in the lives of those whom I love.  So, it’s time to grow up!

This realization has slowly begun to dawn on me in the last five to seven years.  It began with a series of what turned out to be poor decisions that resulted in me leaving the pastorate and then, shortly after, leaving the missions agency that had accepted my wife and me as missionary candidates.  This pattern of decision making caused some of the trust that my wife put in me to erode.  It resulted in me launching out on a new career path and learning how to teach high school in my late forties.   You can imagine that this was a difficult time in our lives.  Thanks be to God, we are in a much better place now.  While I am grateful and content for where we have landed, I would never want to repeat those years.

One of the main things through this painful series of events was that I had invested my hopes and dreams in the power of an outside agency to bring them to reality.  As a young person, I imagined that I would walk into a fortuitous set of circumstances and everything that I had ever hoped for in life would happen.  Later, this fantasy took the form of believing that a mentor would arise who would take me by the hand and show me what it means to be a husband, a father, and a vocational success.  As a Christian, I believed that the Holy Spirit would step in and remove desires that are sinful and immature and work in my life so that life would not be a struggle anymore.

I don’t deny that sometimes people come into a set of fortuitous circumstances that are created for them completely outside of themselves.  And I have had mentors who have been quite instrumental in my life.  However, none of them have been “messiahs.”  And while I continue to believe, perhaps more fervently now, in the presence and reality and power of the Holy Spirit, I no longer believe that His role is to do the hard work that we are called to do in growing up.

So, my paradigm of maturity has changed.  Growing up physically just happens.  If you feed children, they will grow.  But growing up mentally, emotionally, and volitionally takes a great deal of effort on our part.  It’s an effort that is countercultural.  It means that we stop blaming our challenges and problems on our psychological makeup, our outward circumstances, or on other people.  It is stepping up and taking responsibility tor ourselves.  It is putting into practice the habits of life that are required to create a better future for ourselves, our loved ones, and those who are in our circle of influence.

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Ph.D. vs. DIYU

One of my resolutions when I began this blog — and that I’ve carried out religiously, meaning with the frequency of Christmas and Easter, is to round out my education. As a teacher and a manager of an educational program that would be classified in the “educational reform” genre, it has dawned on me recently that to speak of “reform” properly, there must be a “form” to “return to”. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure this out. So, what is the “form” that we are supposed to be returning to?

The “form” that previous generations have followed is a classical education. However, we have had many important thinkers arise since the Classical period. It seems to me that something along the lines of a Great Books education would incorporate both the insights of those from the classical period and later thinkers. It would also shield one from provincialism, as a number of the Great Books writers were Christian, but others, such as Nietschze attacked the Christian faith.

I have resolved to acquire this education myself. However, there is a newly minted Great Books Ph.D. via distance from Faulkner University that looks intriguing. I’m checking it out now and am deliberating whether to forsake DIYU for some more disciplined instruction. Any comments?

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